Saul the Persecutor Became Paul the Apostle. Why?

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. His career as Pharisee was taking off because he was ruthless in his judgement and relentless in his pursuit. But somehow, something changed for Saul: this same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

What Happened?

We know him now as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? History tells us that something happened to change his life and change his name. Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Quite a Resume

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

So Why Focus on a Pharisee Who Converted?

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord; he went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Unashamed

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:
“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Cornelius Proved That There is Something You can do that an Angel Can’t. So Do. Your. Job.

There is an interesting story in Acts that indirectly describes what an Angel Can’t Do, And the funny thing is that it has something to do with YOU.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”

Cornelius

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:1-6, NKJV)

Cornelius did as he was told and sent for Simon Peter, who came to his house and shared the Gospel. Cornelius and his entire household responded to Peter’s message and became believers. But here’s a very interesting Question: why didn’t the angel of God just tell Cornelius what to do?

Angels are powerful, impressive, truthful messengers from God. An angel was sent to Mary and to Joseph to brief each of them on the coming birth of their son. Throughout history, Angels have delivered all kinds of important news from God… They are striking and unusual, and they command attention and respect. Why didn’t the angel just go ahead and share the Gospel with Cornelius? Surely he would have responded! Surely the average person, upon receiving such a message from an angel, would accept it and believe!

So why didn’t the angel just say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved”? Have you ever asked that question? Well, here’s the Answer: because angels CAN’T share the gospel. There is only one set of messengers empowered to share the gospel on earth, and it is US. You and me. If the good news goes anywhere, it will not be because celestial beings appear to tell it. It depends on people like you and me. Which leads to this: if God sent an angel to someone seeking the truth, would that angel tell them to send for you? And if they sent for you, would you go? What would you tell them?
Something to think about; something to DO something about…

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept It…

Down in Caesarea one day
An angel came to Cornelius to say,
“Cornelius, we know you are seeking the Way!
So go find Peter at Simon’s place,
And he will talk to you face to face.”
Cornelius went, and he heard about Grace,
And believed everything that Peter said.
But tell me, this question is in my head,
Why didn’t the angel just tell him instead?
Why didn’t the angel just share the good news?
It’s something he knew that Cornelius could use!
If an Angel shared Jesus, why, who could refuse?
The reason he didn’t was not that he wouldn’t;
He reason he never shared was that he COULDN’T.
That mission is something that he couldn’t do:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.
So tell me, my friend, are you ready today,
If a curious seeker of truth comes your way,
Just what would you tell them? And what would you say?
If a guy comes along with a faith that’s unsteady,
Could you share the Gospel with him? Are you ready?
Angels have powers, but this is still true:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.
So, get ready to share. It’s a job you can do!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Genealogy Matters: Ordinary People Who Resulted in an Extraordinary Genealogy

The whole genealogy thing is really popular right now. People are looking at their DNA to see where they came from, what their genetic makeup is. Apparently there are hidden clues for each of us that can help us understand who we are!
Well, if that’s so, think about this: have you ever wondered who Jesus of Nazareth really was? Where he came from? If you’ve ever read his teachings, you know he was something special, but I find it fascinating that his ancestry was preserved with such passion and detail. Look into it, and you will find Ordinary, Everyday People. And an Extraordinary Genealogy.

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1, NIV) Mathew (also known as Levi, the former tax collector) begins his biography of Jesus in a logical Hebrew fashion: he recounts his genealogy. This makes sense because patriarchal lineage was incredibly important in Israel, and every schoolboy could tell you who his father’s father’s father was, going back through multiple generations. Patriarchal Lineage was important. “Who’s your Daddy?” was important in Jerusalem two thousand years ago…

genealogy tree

In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, however, there is something very surprising. Read it and see if it stands out to you: “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar… Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother (Bathsheba) had been Uriah’s wife…” (Matthew 1:3, 5-6 NIV)

What do Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and then Mary have in common? If you read Matthew 1, you’ll find they are the only women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. It’s not an aberration that there were so few; what is remarkable is that a Jewish genealogy mentioned ANY. Luke’s genealogy doesn’t mention females. Hebrew family trees were usually only traced back through the fathers, so they did not normally include any women.

Matthew, whose gospel was written for a Jewish audience, presented Jesus as the Messiah who had been foretold in the Scriptures, as the promised King who would lead Israel… Yet he departs from Hebrew tradition in the opening stanza of his narrative. It might be instructive to look at their stories and ask, why does Matthew include females in a patriarchal list normally populated with only men? Why do these women stand out? Why are they mentioned specifically and centrally in the most amazing story within the best-selling book of all time? Why are these women, normally marginalized and relegated to the kitchen in ancient Middle Eastern culture, placed upon center stage in Matthew’s Jewish gospel?

As we enter the season of Advent, it is worthwhile to consider the circumstances around the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s unique introduction gives us something to ponder as we look at the arrival of the baby whose birth in an obscure place in a relatively primitive time has absolutely changed all of human history.

As you read the story of Jesus, never forget that God often chooses unlikely and little-known candidates to change history. Never forget that the next candidate might be YOU. Perhaps your influence in the unfolding drama of history is even now being scripted and will yet bear fruit beyond your wildest expectations. After all, it happened to Mary and Joseph. It could happen to you or one of your children’s children. Remember: you read it here first.

Genealogy Matters

The mystery of history is that the genealogy
Of Jesus out of Galilee defied conventionality,
The cultural philosophy, and practice of philology.
Matthew’s careful document somehow put several women in it!
The genealogy was bent, a thing which he could not have meant
To prove the Christ was heaven-sent!
Yet there they are, genealogical sleuth:
Bathsheba, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, recorded in the book of Truth!
Perhaps, if this was meant to be, it means God changes history
With folks who aren’t celebrities, but people just like you and me.
Within your genealogy, what changes will yet come to be?
What names will people someday see, and what will be your legacy?
They say the truth will set you free: investigate this, friend, and see…

 

My book contains a full month of Advent reflections and interesting facts about the birth and life of Jesus. To purchase Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

There’s Plenty of Bad News Out There: Here’s Some GOOD News that’s the Gospel Truth

The Gospel simply means “the good news”, and for many, many generations it was taken to mean something that is absolutely true. (“And that’s the Gospel Truth, Your Honor.”) Even Mark Twain, who was critical of church-goers, often wrote colorful dialect for some of his western characters. When they referred to something being true or reliable, he’d have them say: “That’s gospel, pard.” There’s a reason why people relate gospel to truth, but there is even more to the story of that word.

gospel

The gospel as we know it entered the world in the first century after Jesus came. His teaching and the news of his resurrection were so far-reaching and revolutionary that they literally changed the world, and have been changing it ever since. The Greek word meant “good news”, and the Christian message became so connected with it that the word became synonymous with the good news about Jesus. The Apostle Paul changed his vocation, his plans, and his entire life because of the gospel, and he has this to say about it:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NIV)Paul carried the Good News everywhere he went, and ultimately the Christian message displaced the Roman Empire. Countless millions of lives have been changed by the gospel since then! If you stop and think about it, “gospel” may be the most powerful word in history. And it’s true. Stop and think about THAT.

The Good News
The world all around me, I just have to say
Is full of bad news that we hear every day;
There’s real news, and “fake news”, and media spin;
There’s plenty of hatred, and judgment of sin–
[And that just depends on which church you are in!]
In all of our talk about “don’ts” and the “do’s”,
There are lots of Church words that we Church people use,
Such as “gospel”– which, Paul says, means very good news.
In Old English, it’s “God-spell”. So why is such passion
Stirred up by a word that is so darned old-fashioned?
Just what is the gospel? It’s something I’ve heard
In the Church all my life; it’s a Sunday School word–
Just the kind of expression evangelists say:
So why is the Gospel important today?
If your loved one’s in surgery, might not make it through,
Would you hope that the surgeon brings “good news” to you?
When a marriage proposal is made, does he fear
That it won’t be “good news” from the one he holds dear?
When your boss says there’ll be some reorganization,
Do you hope for “good news” about future vocation?
When you took a hard test, and you’re given your grade,
It’s only “good news” if a good grade is made!
But the Gospel is more than a grade on a test–
It’s not news that’s just GOOD, it is news that’s the BEST!
The headline reads: “Jesus Christ died on the Cross,
Giving Life Everlasting to all who were Lost”!
The Gospel is love. It’s about life and death.
It is every last heartbeat and every last breath!
The Gospel is power and passion combined;
It’s truth, transformation, and love intertwined;
Take a look at the gospel anew, redefined,
And let it sink in to your heart and your mind:
It is news just for YOU, of the very best kind.
Jesus died for the world, we all know that is true–
It’s the oldest of news, it’s the newest of new:
But the good news means He also died just for YOU.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35, NIV)

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread